England overcame the toughest test it is likely to face before the final of the Women’s Rugby World Cup when it beat France 13-7 on Saturday in the second round of group play.

Top-ranked England extended its world-record winning streak in test matches to 27 and looked more like an unstoppable tournament favorite.

Earlier, Australia beat Scotland 14-12, and United States beat Japan 30-17.

The matchup between England and fourth-ranked France had been anticipated from the moment they were drawn together in Group C of the 12-team tournament. France is believed to be much better than its ranking, having been unbeaten in group matches at a World Cup since 2006.

The start was intense as the teams tested each other with high kicks and occasional swift attacking raids. At the same time, rock solid defense jarred the ball loose in tackles. The physical nature of the match also brought casualties as France lost two of its leading players – Laure Sansus and Romane Menager – to injuries in the first 17 minutes.

First points finally came in the 24th minute when Emily Scarratt dived over after England had attacked through 13 phases.

England’s 7-0 lead remained almost until halftime, though it had a huge weight of possession and tested France through the middle and out wide. The French defense was resolute and England finally took a penalty to make the lead 10-0 at halftime.

The England dominance continued into the second half but the French defense still was hard to crack. Their best early scoring chance came in the 51st minute when Scarratt knocked on with unmarked players outside her.

France had to make a huge number of tackles but seemed the relish the task while England often were one-dimensional on attack.

England finally relented and kicked for goal, extending its lead to 13-0 in the 61st minute. Then France roared back into the match with a try to flyhalf Gaelle Hermet. France kicked wide to winger Joanna Grisez who took the ball on the bounce and when brought down near the line had Hermet in support.

The match became ill-tempered as the six-point margin wound up pressure. France again seemed energized but England, not playing its best rugby, showed professionalism to close out the match.

”We know encounters between England and France in recent matches have come down to narrow margins and have been tight scores and tonight was no different,” England captain Sarah Hunter said. ”Two great sides going toe to toe.”

Australia 14, Scotland 12

Lori Cramer kicked the conversion of Ashley Masters’ 74th-minute try as Australia rallied from 12-0 down at halftime to beat Scotland 14-12.

At Whangarei, New Zealand, Bienne Terita also scored a second-half try for Australia which posted its first win in Group A after a first-round loss to New Zealand.

For Scotland it was a second consecutive heart-breaking result after last weekend’s 18-15 first-round loss to Wales. Scotland had scored a late try which appeared to have secured a draw but Wales won the match with a penalty five minutes after the fulltime siren.

Again on Saturday, Scotland seemed to have done enough to secure a better result. It led early with a try to hooker Lana Skeldon from a lineout drive.

Scotland went ahead 12-0 in the 27th minute with a penalty try after Australia collapsed a series of mauls near their goal line. Australia hooker Adiana Talakai was sin-binned for her role in the final offense.

Scotland held Australia scoreless until the 59th minute when Terita scored in an overlap when Australia finally found a way to outflank the Scotland defense.

The Scotland players had defended superbly until that point. They also were exceptional at breakdowns where they secured many turnovers. The Australia backs looked dangerous at times but moves often broke down because of handling errors or for the lack of timely support.

Australia pressed the Scotland line repeatedly in the final moments and finally broke through when, after a scrum, they moved the ball to the left flank, won the ruck quickly and handed to replacement hooker Masters who crashed through tackles to score.

The match ended on a slightly sour note for Australia when both Masters and Talakai were sent off, Masters for a high tackle and Talakai for a second yellow card offense.

United States 30, Japan 17

The United States finally clicked into gear with almost three quarters of the match behind it to beat Japan and boost its quarterfinal hopes.

Japan produced an outstanding performance to lead 5-3 at halftime after facing a strong wind through the first spell.

The United States seized its first lead with a try to Joanna Kitklinski in the 45th minute but Japan responded with a try to winger Hinano Nagura to lead 10-8 with 30 minutes remaining.

After a 22-10 loss to Italy in the first round of group matches last weekend, the U.S had to win on Saturday to keep its chances alive of progressing to the knockout rounds.

The U.S. attack was sluggish in the first 50 minutes but it finally came together and the it finished with three tries and 17 unanswered points.

Japan winger Komachi Imaguchi scored a brilliant solo try four minutes from fulltime but the United States extended its lead with a late penalty.

”We just came out with a little more belief this time around,” U.S. captain Kate Zackary said. ”We came here to have a performance today, we needed a performance and the girls showed up. We needed to shine in that second half and every player did, one through 23.”

Japan is without a win after two games in Group B, losing to Canada in its first match.

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